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update: I've taken the headset apart, cleaned it, regreased it and reassembled everything. It's been fine since. The bike has sealed cartridge bearings, so I'm not sure what it was - it's not like they were dirty and didn't have proper lubrication. Maybe something wasn't positioned correctly or some dirt got in there somehow.


My bike, a two year old Trek Domane (aluminium frame, carbon fork, 4000mi/6500km mileage) makes a cracking sound when the handlebars are turned. Here's a recording:

This noise has been present for a while, but recently started happening much more frequently and is easier to reproduce than before. I've also noticed that a similar clunking noise happens under hard braking with the front brake - it makes me think this might be a headset issue. It does not happen during normal riding, probably because you'd rarely turn the handlebars this much at speed.

The bike recently had its annual inspection and nothing came up - the noise got worse later (though not immediately, so I don't think the shop messed something up). The bike was never in any crashes and the headset, fork etc are all stock.

Could this be a headset problem? Would it be good to take it apart, clean & inspect?

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That's awful, and cause for immediate concern. Stop riding it to prevent further damage until its fixed.

I expect your steering feels notchy right now, and the noises align with a feeling of more-movement. Did someone over-tighten the stem-cap bolt ? This is the single one in the middle of the steerer, pointing down toward the front axle.


Diagnosis: wrap one hand around the top of the head tube and turn the bars. Then repeat at the bottom of the head tube. Try and decide if the clicking has more obvious "feel" at the top or bottom.

Then back off the bolts holding the stem on, and relax the top cap. Does the noise reduce or go away? This is reducing the preload on the bearings. If yes, I would suggest removing the fork and clean/inspect the bearings and races they press on.

If everything looks okay inside, that is the bearing balls are all shiny and round still, and there's no dents/channels in the races, then clean/lube/reassemble would be reasonable.

In your video, I hear something building up tension and then releasing suddenly. The release is creating the noise, which sounds like it is being amplified by the frame or by spokes.

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    Steering feels fine, honestly. You can feel the cracks as slight vibration in the handlebars, but they turn freely, there's no jerky feeling or anything of the sort.
    – user4520
    Jun 12, 2023 at 21:11
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    This is why I didn't think it was over-set bearings, because I assumed that would result in noticeable resistance when turning the handlebars
    – user4520
    Jun 12, 2023 at 21:26
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    @user4520 okay that's weird - try cutting the problem up and figure out when the symptoms change. Drop the front wheel out and see if things change? Angle the bike up on its rear wheel and see if that has any effect. I'm strongly suspicious of the headset.
    – Criggie
    Jun 12, 2023 at 22:55

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